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Coaching forum to aid church planters

The Rev. Jacob Armstrong is pastor of Providence United Methodist Church, a new church start in Mt. Juliet, Tenn. A coaching forum will bring 150 men and women interested in assisting with new church starts to Nashville Jan. 7-9.
A UMNS file photo by Ronny Perry.

By Tim Ghianni*
Oct. 6, 2009 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)

The Rev. Tom Butcher

For the first time in more than a century, The United Methodist Church is putting a national priority on planting new churches.

And it is looking for 150 good women and men to help lead others in the work of building new congregations, church leaders said.

“We used to have the habit as United Methodists or the Methodist Church in the 1800s of planting a church a day,” said the Rev. Tom Butcher, executive director for Path 1, the denomination’s new church growth program. “Ultimately we hope to get back to that – and even more.”

The first Path 1 Coaching Forum will be held Jan. 7-9 at West End United Methodist Church in Nashville. Eighteen mentor-coaches – a diverse leadership group of clergy and laity dedicated to planting new United Methodist churches throughout the United States – will train like-minded souls, said the Rev. Gary Shockley, a new church strategist for Path 1, a division of the United Methodist Board of Discipleship.

Coaches developed at the forum will provide a wave of trained folks to go into the conferences and districts that already are asking for aid in planting programs, church leaders said.

New church starts will “reach more people, more younger people, reach more diverse people and do better evangelism,” Shockley said.

The Rev. Gary Shockley

“We cannot plant new churches fast enough to recover from the spiraling decline in our denomination,” he said. “Revitalizing churches, which is not the core task of Path 1, is the other key to strengthening our general church. We need to do both things well!”

It is a problem faced not just by United Methodists, according to Shockley.

That’s why part of his strategy for this first session is to draw from outside The United Methodist Church. He believes that the Path 1 focus on coaching and training coaches in church plants can be applied in all denominations that are dealing with decline.

“We are trying to find a way to get the word out among our sister denominations. I am not aware of anything like what we are developing being available in other denominations.”

The coaching network also will be worked on at the School of Congregational Development each summer, Shockley said.

Butcher said the more vigorous emphasis on instruction to prepare mentors and coaches for new church plants is a natural part of the revised plan for church growth.

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“It’s a change in focus for the denomination,” Butcher said. “This is the first time the denomination has put a national emphasis on church planting in over 100 years.”

The coaching forum is just one aspect of an ambitious plan to step up the pace of new churches, he said.

“By the end of 2012, our goal is to have 650 new congregations,” he said.

Further information is available at www.path1.org/coach.

*Ghianni is a Nashville, Tenn.-based freelance writer for the United Methodist Board of Discipleship.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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Path 1

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